For 52 years, the roots of Cleveland’s origin had been masked through uncertainty, futility, and at times endured through several “what if” moments.
What if the Cavs’ foundation: consisting of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love connect all the dots and deliver when aspirations are still so high? What if a team could learn from their mistakes and grow through its’ weaknesses? What if a head coach could assemble the key adjustments necessary to thrust them into the history books? What if, finally, after five decades a title drought for a city would cease?
Lingering questions like these were present all season for Cleveland – through it all they were forced to answer them all, without any reluctance. The road to the top for the Cavaliers wasn’t smooth. Their season commenced with high hopes, as it saw their core enter 2016 healthy, climbing up to the top of Eastern Conference standings by winning 31 of its first 42 games.
But like anything, Cleveland experienced growing pains which was spawned off by injuries to integral pieces. Next, came a firing of their head coach, David Blatt, mid-season and the ongoing chemistry struggles within the Big Three impeded the progress to seize control of the conference.
However, once Cleveland’s new coach, Tyronn Lue, announced his presence in January things changed. The Cavs became healthy again and Lue became more in-sync with his roster. He ditched the continual letdown of point guard Matthew Dellavedova and replaced him with the trusted hands of veterans Channing Frye and Mo Williams. This established Cleveland with an ideal voice as they re-took the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Entering the playoffs, we all knew Cleveland was good, good enough to make it back to this year’s Finals. However, the biggest elephant in the room remained unshakable. Can they beat the best from the West? That fantasy seemed remote after four games in these finals until the kid from Akron strapped the city of Cleveland onto his shoulders. LeBron James’ back-to-back 40 point performances in Games Five and Six – basically transcending his already aging body – one that’s given him seven seasons of reaching basketball’s greatest summit. In the end, he capped this year’s Finals off with a triple-double in the series’ final game, as well as leading all players on both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
James, this remarkable basketball talent and leader, has already established himself as one of the all-time greats, a once-in-a-generation player. He may never be able to silence all of his critics but his third title is his greatest accomplishment and no doubt the sweetest one of all – bringing that long, elusive title to his beloved hometown.
It wasn’t all on his efforts however. There were pieces surrounding James that made up Cleveland’s brass that deserves recognition, too. It was the incredibly talented fifth-year point guard, Kyrie Irving, who shined the brightest on the NBA’s biggest stage – averaging 27.1 points, 3.8 rebounds in 38 minutes of action per game. There were times that Lue demanded his electric point guard to be more than superb. To be perfect. Whether that was by creating space where there wasn’t any space to maneuver to begin with, or to create his own shot amid an on slot of Golden State screens, Irving responded every time. Throughout this series, he outplayed the two-time league MVP in every facet of the game, demonstrating he can be as breathtaking at this position as anyone in the game.
Players like Tristan Thompson, the blue-collar Canadian, who never seemed to stop working until the job was done. His blend of toughness and grit on the boards and dependability as a secondary defender proved to be the perfect fit to this team.
And how can you forget the humble rookie head coach? Who took over a Cavaliers’ team that was 30-11 and was asked to make them better. Lue answered emphatically by being the only coach this season to discover a chink in the Warriors’ impenetrable suit of armor. After Game Five’s blowout loss, Lue reestablished the essence of going big. That slight adjustment meant the world for Cleveland, and in the end thrusted the series momentum into their favor. Options at the 4 and 5 positions, such as Tristan Thompson and Richard Jefferson saw a substantial uptick of minutes and their value on defense, mainly harassing Golden State’s smaller forwards grew to immense levels.
There were moments that occurred in Game Seven of these Finals that will be encapsulated inside every Cleveland fans’ minds forever. From the chase down, when Cleveland’s very-own, LeBron James, sprinted 40 feet in mere seconds to deny Golden State’s Andre Iguodala at any chance of victory. Or when Kyrie Irving, Cleveland’s public figure who’s symbolized for so many flashy and flamboyant tricks when a basketball is in his hands, drained a three in the face of the league’s back-to-back MVP. To even after the final buzzer sounded, and the Cavaliers’ bench erupted with euphoria, an oftentimes stoic James crumpled underneath his own basket, tears filling up in his eyes.
Through those chronological sets of emotions, we’re given a picture that’s story has been told for 52 years now. It illustrates the five decades of agony this franchise and city had dealt with, the endless amounts of hollowness and turmoil. Now, sitting a top of basketball’s most elegant throne, the Cleveland Cavaliers can at last call themselves champions.